Valhalla lacks tradition may provide excitement

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupLOUISVILLE, Ky. ' The waterfall alongside the 13th green at Valhalla Golf Club could have been lifted from a Disney theme park.
 
How appropriate as another major golf tournament comes to a course thats always seemed to be a bit of a whimsical creation.
 
Lacking the tradition of an Augusta National or the truly memorable holes of a place such as Pebble Beach, this Jack Nicklaus-designed layout on the eastern fringe of Louisville is nonetheless hosting the Ryder Cup, its third big-time event in the last dozen years.
 
Not bad for a club thats not even as old as the youngest member of the U.S. team, 23-year-old Anthony Kim.
 
At least the reviews are better than they were in 1996, when Valhalla hosted its first PGA Championship just a decade after opening its gates. The comments then were pretty stinging.
 
No tradition. A pedestrian layout more suited for a tournament named after a tractor or a bank. A blatant attempt by the owner, the PGA of America, to bolster the reputation of the club.
 
But it might prove to be the right fit for a Ryder Cup.
 
I think its a superb golf course, especially for match play, Justin Rose said. Its got a lot of interesting holes, a lot of dramatic-looking holes. Its going to offer some birdie opportunities out there, but theres some trouble out there, too. Theres a lot of risk and reward holes, and I think it sets up really well for match play.
 
Actually, the Americans seem to be borrowing an idea thats worked for Europe.
 
After years of hosting the Ryder Cup on U.S. Open-styled courses ' Oakland Hills, The Country Club, Oak Hill ' the United States has turned to a place more comparable to The Belfry in England and The K Club in Ireland, the last two courses used on the other side of the Atlantic.
 
It may be rather ordinary, but Valhalla is expected to yield plenty of birdies ' and excitement.
 
There will be eagles and birdies and all sorts of stuff flying around, Irelands Graeme McDowell said.
 
The 13th is the signature hole ' a downhill, 352-yarder that can be reached off a forward tee, assuming one can keep the ball on the par 4s island green (its surrounded by a creek). Local favorite J.B. Holmes bombed away during the practice rounds, thrilling the galleries.
 
Well see, said Henrik Stenson of Sweden, one of Europes longest hitters. Im sure somebody is going to have a go at it.
 
Matches that come down the 547-yard 18th hole will be decided on a par 5 that has a large bunker protecting the left side of the fairway and a pond down the right side. But a decent tee shot should give most players a chance to go for the green with their next swing.
 
Aggressive play will be rewarded, American rookie Steve Stricker said. A guy that hits it long and straight is definitely going to be rewarded here.
 
Valhalla was carved out of a flood plain on the outskirts of Louisville, land that had no apparent use until a local cabinetmaker came up with the idea of build a golf course good enough to host a PGA Championship, then summoned Nicklaus to design it.
 
The PGA of America ended up buying the place, giving Valhalla a big advantage when the organizations two major events ' the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup ' are doled out.
 
The club hosted its second PGA Championship just four years after the first, in 2000, the quickest turnaround for a major championship other than the Masters since 1910, when the U.S. Open returned to Philadelphia Cricket Club after a three-year hiatus. For good measure, the 2004 Senior PGA Championship also was held here.
 
Despite being just 22 years old, Valhalla needed major renovations leading into the Ryder Cup. Nicklaus himself oversaw the changes, adding some 300 yards to a course that had quickly become outdated against todays stronger players and improved equipment. Several greens were reconstructed. Others were modified to create more challenging pin placements. Bunkers were added at six holes.
 
But Nicklaus retained the most noticeable characteristic ' a front nine that is much different than the back side.
 
Its interesting, Swedens Robert Karlsson said. The front nine is a lot more open Scottish type, if you want to put it that way, golf course. The back nine is more tree lined. Its two different nines, but they are both very good.
 
Teammate Paul Casey also noticed the distinction.
 
The first few holes, I thought that a really long hitter a more erratic player, would be liking this golf course, the Englishman said. But when you come down the stretch on holes 15 and 16, for example, and 17 as well, they are not the widest fairways youve seen. In a pressure situation, those are going to be tricky to hit.
 
So, while Valhalla may be lacking in tradition, there should be no shortage of thrilling shots.
 
Youre going to see a lot of birdies, Stricker predicted. Youre going to need to make birdies to win the hole.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
  • European Report Cards
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
     
    Information from Associated Press was used in this report.
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.